20 more Thai Muslims flee


KUALA LUMPUR, Reuters

A third group of Thai Muslims has crossed into neighboring Malaysia, complaining of harassment by the military in Thailand’s troubled south, a Malaysian newspaper reported on Sunday.

A group of seven men and 17 women, aged between one and 57, who covered their faces and refused to give their names say where they came from, said they had been beaten and their sons were missing or detained since 2005, the Star newspaper said.

The Thai government installed after a bloodless coup in September says it is pursuing a policy of reconciliation to restore peace in the south, where a separatist insurgency has killed 2,000 people since 2004.

But a minibus attack that killed 8 people last week has infuriated the Buddhist minority there, and prompted authorities to tighten security measures.

A spokesman for the Thai group said a bomb attack on a mosque in his village had made it difficult for Muslims to gather to pray, the Star said.

“Last week after the bomb blast, which injured scores of my neighbors, Thai soldiers came and simply arrested youths,” the paper quoted the spokesman as saying, adding that many young men were missing or feared dead.

The group, which arrived in Malaysia on Saturday, said it was not seeking political asylum but wanted Malaysia’s help to stop the bloodshed against Muslims in the four Thai southern provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and Songkhla.

Immigration department officials could not be reached for comment, and an official of the U.N. refugee agency in Kuala Lumpur said it had no information on the case.